Bermuda Governor hosts Joyce Banda, UN diplomats ahead of sexual and reproductive rights meet

Issues about gender equality, sexual and reproductive health
(SRH), services and comprehensive sexuality education must be
given special attention by the international community to ensure
the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by
2030, Bermudian Governor John Rankin has said.

The Governor of Bermuda, who is the representative of the
British monarch in the British overseas territory of Bermuda,
was speaking at a reception he hosted at his official residence
in Bermuda on Friday, December 9, 2016, in honour of former
Malawi’s former President Joyce Banda and a group of diplomats
representing country missions to the United Nations (UN)
Headquarters in New York.

This was ahead of a high-level meeting on issues related to
gender equality, women’s and girls’ human rights and sexual and
reproductive health and rights (December 10-11, 2016) where
Banda was Keynote Speaker.

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Governor Rankin hailed the International Women’s Health
Coalition (IWHC) and International Planned Parenthood Federation
(IPPF) for organizing the Bermuda meeting, noting that for
people to attain the highest standard of health across the
world, they must first be empowered to exercise choice in their
sexual and reproductive lives and this can only be achieved when
advocacy and education initiatives are heightened.

Speaking on Saturday at Grotto Bay Beach Resort, former
President Banda noted that the meeting was a “testament of the
incredibly relentless work done over the years by civil society,
research and advocacy groups, governments, and policy-makers to
bring the rightful relevance to the sexual rights and health of
girls around the world”.

Banda spoke about the challenges that girls aged 0 to 10 years
old face at household level and in the community that negatively
affects their education and adulthood in the context of gender
equality, women’s and girls’ human rights and sexual and
reproductive health and rights.

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“We should not wait until adolescence to advocate for the rights
of the girl child. It is between ages 0 and 10 is when girls are
molded by dangerous behaviors and mindsets about the value of a
girl. It is at this age when underinvestment in the girl child’s
education begins; where her sole destiny as future wife and
mother are decided,” Banda said.

She cited harmful cultural practices, traditions and
socialization norms within the household as some of the main
challenges that negatively affect the growth and development of
the girl child.

“When the incomes are low at household level, it is the boy who
goes to school at the expense of the girl; the girl child is
subjected to dangerous harmful practices and traditions and the
trauma she is subjected to negatively affects her future,” Banda
said.

Governments must renew their commitment to passing and enforcing
laws to protect the girl child’s rights to safety and dignity
and that the civil society, development partners, and local
community leaders to engage in the tremendous undertaking of
educating families and shifting broader mindsets and beliefs,
she said.

“What we have is fundamentally a mindset challenge. We have
discussed harmful cultural practices often in connection to
other issues like education, gender based violence and
discrimination. But we are yet to tackle it head on, which I
know seems deeply overwhelming and impossible, but is in fact
doable. How? The first step is to research how to better use
existing power hierarchies at the community level to change
behaviors.

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“When I took office as President in 2012, 675 Malawian women
died per 100,000 live births. In the rural areas where we saw
the highest incidence of maternal death, there were many myths
and taboos surrounding pregnancy, which often kept women from
seeking proper healthcare and opting to deliver in their homes
without trained birth attendants.

“In addition to investing in clinical infrastructure, our
biggest challenge was to change mindsets and norms surrounding
childbirth. To achieve this, we mobilized more than 12,000
traditional village leaders to educate women, demystify
pregnancy, and enforce the government’s ban on home birth.
Instead of criminalizing traditional birth attendants, we
recruited them to act as community advisors for pregnant women
and young girls,” said former President Banda.

Banda is currently a Distinguished Fellow at Woodrow Wilson
Centre where her research tackles issues of women’s leadership
as well as at the Center for Global Development (CGD)
researching on girl education in Washington DC.

About the author

Asmaa Mubita is a Kenyan journalist of international repute with over fifteen years of experience in broadcast journalism. Asmaa Mubita began his journalism career at the Kenyan state broadcaster (KBC) and later worked at the KTN owned by the Standard Group and Citizen Television, the flagship brand of Royal Media Services. These exploits together with his reporting experience with the Voice of America, CNN and BBC have been rewarded with local and global recognition.

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